What’s not happening?
Is there a way to advocate living in the present moment without inadvertently promoting hedonism? I see many of the problems around me as coming from short-term thinking decisions of yesteryear, with people doing what felt good then. Now the “chickens have come home to roost,” so to speak. Is there such a thing as “living in the now” and having a sense of responsibility?
I was talking to someone yesterday that has owned businesses in the past in the Mid-Michigan area. I was talking about how the Michigan economy seems to have two main problems: people who have no skills thinking they should make $20/hour for doing very little and employers seeking applicants for jobs requiring advanced-level skills while offering $10/hour or less. He completely agreed on the first point. I have no idea what he offers compensation-wise to applicants. I don’t get the impression that he even fully understood the second point as being problematic.
One guy at our table (at the wedding reception of my best friend’s son) said that these problems are natural and will work themselves out in a generation. I responded that I do not believe that Michigan has a generation for these factors to find a more normal equilibrium. There will simply not be a sufficient number of educated people left to attract businesses of any ilk.
I have been watching educated people, such as my friend working in Washington DC and living in Maryland, leave Michigan. She left a $10/hour job here for a $22/hour job there with the exact same skill set. Good luck, Governor Snyder, trying to get her back here. I have watched this for years. I even watched it in the last church I went to. The kids left Michigan seeking opportunities and then the parents followed, wanting to be near their descendants. The implications of that staggered me and were completely lost on the rest of the congregation, as far as I could tell. Not only are the young people are leaving; they are drawing their parents away from Michigan as well.
The business owner talked about how he worked 70+ hours a week. No wonder he doesn’t see the consequences of his choices. He’s busy catching the next plane and making the next meeting.
Thinking about this last night (and being over-caffeinated to boot, not a good combination) made me realize that it is almost impossible to notice things that are not happening, especially when ridiculously busy. I missed the exodus for at least a few years when I first started business school and did not awaken to reality until 2007, when it left me totally disoriented for about six months. I walked around in a state of disbelief. How did I manage to miss so many of my classmates, not to mention staff and faculty, leaving? What else did I fail to notice? But how do you notice the person who doesn’t sign up for classes for next semester? When dealing with the trauma of living, it is very difficult to keep track of what is going on, let alone keep track of what isn’t happening.
Then reality catches up with you. At some point, you need the input or contribution of someone you know or a group of people at your church or school or wherever and they aren’t there anymore. How long have they been gone? The assumption that they would be there when you needed them has gone from being perfectly reasonable to worthless. They left and you didn’t even notice. In a school setting, perhaps that is inevitable. In a church, it’s nothing short of devastating. The people are leaving and telling others, “I left and I don’t think they know I’m gone yet.” That, my dear friends, is the ultimate anti-evangelism.
The only solution I can think of is to deliberately have fewer commitments, at least to the point of not working 70+ hours /week. Perhaps this is an intuition issue. I don’t seem to have any. I am just thinking that someone, somewhere, would have a more immediate approach of figuring out the right questions to ask. I seem to only figure them out after-the-fact. And, even then, people don’t want to hear what I have to say.
I want to solve problems, not just be a buzz-kill. How do you notice in the present moment things that are not happening anymore (that need to be)? How do you get stressed-out people to think in the long-term? Don’t people need some hedonism? Can people endlessly put their nose to the grindstone without some relief? Can we find things that feel good now that don’t do long-term damage that future generations will have to deal with? Am I talking about a level of discipline that is unheard of in modern culture? What would a good Buddhist response to the short-term thinking that is destroying lives and economies?
I went hunting for an applicable Buddhist quote. I kept finding quotes on compassion (whodathunkit?) and discipline. What I did find was a quote from my favorite nun, Pema Chodron. I think it addresses the issues I am referring to: improving conditions for people and having a sense of responsibility for how our actions are impacting others. I am starting to realize that I just don’t fit into normal society anymore.
“We don’t set out to save the world; we set out to wonder how other people are doing and to reflect on how our actions affect other people’s hearts.” Pema Chodron (quoted in Wisdomquotes.com)